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Sensational Vegas murder case is revived

‘This case is about betrayal,’ a prosecutor said in opening the next chapter in a sensational murder trial involving a former stripper and her secret lover, charged with killing for a fortune in buried treasure.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prosecutors opened the second chapter of a sensational murder trial Thursday, telling jurors that a former stripper and her secret lover killed a one-time casino executive for a piece of a million-dollar estate and a fortune in buried treasure.

“This case is about betrayal,” Deputy District Attorney Christopher Lalli said in his opening statement. “It is about lust. It is about abject greed.”

Sandy Murphy, a 32-year-old former stripper, and Rick Tabish, a 39-year-old Montana contractor, were sent to prison for the 1998 death of Ted Binion, who came from a prominent Las Vegas family that owned the famed Binion’s Horseshoe Hotel & Casino.

But the defendants are back on trial because the Nevada Supreme Court tossed out their convictions last year. If convicted a second time, the pair could be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Not much has changed in the prosecution’s theory of the crime since the first trial in 2000. They say the suspects forced Binion to ingest lethal levels of heroin and the anti-depressant Xanax before suffocating the 55-year-old drug addict.

Prosecutors say the motive was a piece of Binion’s $55 million estate and a cache of more than $5 million in silver bars and coins that Binion had buried in an underground desert vault. Tabish built the vault for Binion.

“The evidence will show that the only way they could live their lives happily ever after was to kill Ted Binion and take his property,” Lalli said.

Defense lawyers dismissed the prosecution’s case, portraying Murphy as Binion’s devoted girlfriend and Tabish as Binion’s good friend. Binion and Murphy met at a strip club, and she soon moved into his sprawling estate.

Defense lawyers also said Binion was caught in an accelerating cycle of drug abuse brought on by family infighting and the loss of his gambling license a few months before his death.

“He was doing more and more heroin, and he was in the throes of despair,” said Tabish’s lawyer, J. Tony Serra.

In throwing out the earlier convictions, the state Supreme Court ruled that the judge made a mistake in not forcing prosecutors to try an extortion case against Tabish separately. Justices said the extortion evidence unfairly prejudiced the jury.